Source: Received from author for review
Neil Kazenzakis is barely holding his life together: ever since an accident left his wife profoundly disabled, he's been doing his best as a single dad and popular high school teacher. He's also been dealing with Lauren Downey, his sort-of girlfriend of the past two years who's pushing for a commitment—and for Neil to finally tell his son Christopher about their secret relationship.
Neil's carefully balanced world begins to fall apart when some questionable footage of him is anonymously posted to YouTube...just as Chris learns about Lauren in the worst possible way. Doubting his own recollection of the events in the online video and threatened with the loss of his job and the ability to care for his wife, Neil must find a way to prove the truth to his family, his community, and himself as he struggles to regain the splintered trust of his son.
Heartbreaking, poignant, and written with devastating humor and warmth, The Banks of Certain Rivers is a shattering story of memory, loss, and just how far a man will go to show the people closest to him the meaning of love.
Neil Kazenzakis is a good guy and in good shape in how much he runs, all. the. time. He is a teacher at the local high school and the track coach, and you find out early that he has had a tragedy in his life. His love since 9th grade, Wendy, is involved in a swimming accident that leaves her in a vegetative state permanently. Neil takes on raising their son Christopher, who was only 14 when the accident occurred, grieving for his best friend/life partner who can no longer communicate in any capacity, and go through with everything that comes with keeping someone in a long term care facility. He also is now taking care of his mother-in-law whose health is fading and the orchard that is on their property and an important family legacy.
Neil has a lot of controversy coming his way. He breaks up a fight after track practice one afternoon, and gets elbowed in the face. He doesn't think anything of it so he doesn't tell the principal he had to step in. Teens being teens anonymously upload a video to YouTube regarding this situation that threatens Neil's entire life including his job, income, and ability to pay for Wendy's care. Plus, he has been secretly dating his mother-in-law's home health nurse for two years and hasn't found a good time to tell his now 17 year old son about it. (Yeah, nary a good time in two years leaves me sensing a big fallout for this one) Things keep piling up, and Neil is having to censor who he talks to, make decisions about his relationship and what it could mean since he is still married to Wendy and handle the fallout when Chris finds out that he's been hiding his girlfriend.
While all of this is going on Harrison does a fantastic job of weaving the past and present together. There are glimpses of Neil and Wendy as teenagers, and milestones throughout Christopher's life. A lot of information is unveiled through emails that are sent to an account he set up to his wife. He uses this as a therapeutic way to talk to her after her accident and it made me sad. The depth at which we are given these insights into their love and life is sticking with me, and I hate to think of all of the people that have or will go through losing their love this or any way. In the present, we have all of the sensitive situations that I talked about and that brought a little bit more excitement to the story. At first you don't know what is going to be the catalyst for these events so I was formulating all of these awful scenarios in my head. I am happy to report that I was so freaking glad it wasn't the usual inappropriate scenario with a female student. I don't mind stories like that, in certain scenarios...but with Neil being 39 I let out a huge sigh of relief that it wasn't that!
Alan is Neil's neighbor and best friend. He brought a lot of comedy and wisdom to the story. I would say he and Lauren are the most important secondary characters and their support, loyalty and belief in him when we're wondering when and how he will crack under the pressure was refreshing. Happy moments are remembered and experienced in the now too, but the bittersweetness of some of them brought out my inner sap once again. We see teenagers all trying to find their way, with some being more mature than their years, and others making me glad I am past that stage of my life. I am sad to say that I haven't read a book completely from a male point of view in a very long time, and this one made me so happy.
There are a lot of issues at hand here and I choose to be vague about how things go with Lauren and Christopher so don't forget about them! Nothing was predictable for me, and it really reads fast even though it is 400 pages. Great summer read and I am glad to have experienced it!
Purchase The Banks of Certain Rivers at:
About the author: